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Old 15th Sep 2005, 13:51   #1
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Default People Who Offer Writing Tips on Websites

I've seen the name of Orson Scott Card appearing on a writing forum. Card is one of those sci-fi/fantasy writers that people seem to follow. Anyway, apparently he tells people how to write, much like Stephen King in On Writing. I think people aren't realising that these guys are telling them how they write, and can't offer much advice on the art of writing.

Card's website offers a section full of writing tips. They begin with someone writing a letter about a problem they are having. As you read them, however, you realised that he's waffling and not actually saying anything.

I find it hard to write long chapters. At the current pace of action it seems to me that my novel will have a good length when I finish. Of course, that is hard for me to judge because this is my first novel. Also, I'm only at 3500 words so I guess it would be hard to judge anyway. The thing is, that at 3500 words I have my first chapter and a good part of my second chapter. I don't know if my pacing is too fast, or if I just don't know where to divide chapters. The truth is I don't know the rule for chapter divisions if there is one. I know it should have some sort of story arc, but I don't really know what is worthy of a new chapter. If you could just tell me some common problems that writers have with chapter divisions and maybe something you know that can help, that would be great. Thank You.

-- Submitted by Ben Scott

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Chapter length is completely arbitrary. You can divide chapters however you want.

Robert Parker, for instance, uses very short chapters in his Spenser novels. Other writers have only five or six chapters in an entire novel.

Some writers divide chapters into sections from one character's point of view, so that the chapters change as often as the point of view shifts.

Some writers divide chapters after climactic scenes; others try to end them on cliffhangers or stunning revelations, so that the reader must turn the page and keep going.

Some writers (and now I'm speaking of myself) tend to begin a novel with short chapters, to create a fast-moving rhythm as the reader is just getting engaged in the story. Later chapters are much longer, on the presumption that the reader who gets this far is already interested and willing to read through much longer movements.

A chapter can be a single word, though this is a huge "special effect" that should only be done once in a career. But it's not rare to have a two- or three-page chapter at some crucial point in a book, because it needs to be set off from everything around it.

In other words, there are no rules. Just remember that each chapter break provides benefits - a sense of closure, of progress, of movement through the book - and imposes costs - a detachment from the story, a place where the book can be set down, an interruption in the onward flow. So you decide for yourself what rhythm and pace you want to establish, and when the costs of a chapter break are worth the benefits.

By the way, there are also "parts" and "volumes," which are longer than chapters and include them. These are used only when needed - they impose an even deeper division and greater cost, but imply a much stronger shift in time, place, or viewpoint, so sometimes these, too, are worth it.
So, after all that, he's saying that chapters can be used in any way you want. You'd think he'd try and explain the purpose behing chapters, the reasoning for using them as plot devices (i.e. cliffhangers), to conclude scenes, etc.

Here's another:

Names in your stories are always standout and memorable when they should be, and always seem to fit (Olhado comes readily to mind), especially in the Homecoming Saga with the extensive designing of names that went into it.

I have many terrible stories, and a few decent ones, and one or two that I like to think are rather good; but all of them are simply sodden with Stephens and Sarahs and Johnathans. I watch cursors blink for long periods of time trying to think of a good name, and then end up with a strangely spelled variation of 'Bob'.

-- David DeMattos

OSC Replies:

I had the same problem. First rule: No two characters in the same story can have their key name (i.e., the one most commonly referred to) start with the same letter or the same sound).

Second rule: People from similar cultures should have names that reflect that; from different cultures, the naming should show the difference. Sometimes, just the thought, "Does this character have to come from the longtime American naming tradition?" can open up a story or a character. Having the occasional Abdul, Kassarian, Amijan, Pok Cho, or Nkule can give you people whose history becomes important. Also, when given unusual names, a character will have feelings about those names - and it will tell us something about the parents. A sixty-year-old woman named Melanie Scarlett can say, "I was born right after my mother wept through her third reading of Gone with the Wind." To which the answer could be, "Thank God Aunt Pittipat wasn't her favorite character."

Third rule: All names should be pronounceable by American readers. Thus, you change the spellings or transliterations, and you don't get cute with punctuation marks. Americans don't know what to do with the apostrophe in, say, Qur'an (I think it's a glottal stop, but it's not like I speak Arabic), and Russian can be transliterated in lots of ways. But in their minds, readers don't see letters, they say sounds, and so an unpronounceable name is a constant irritant throughout the story.

Sources: Foreign language dictionaries. Phone books. Biographical dictionaries. Foreign language websites. Make up your own based on existing elements in ways that people really combine names or make them up - Zewonda, Peterette, Albena, Davisha. Make first names out of last names. Make up cool nicknames and then stories about how the characters got them.

Avoid: Names stolen from people in the news right now. It dates the story and makes the writer seem desperate.

There's plenty more on his Writing Lessons.
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 14:06   #2
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...First rule: No two characters in the same story can have their key name (i.e., the one most commonly referred to) start with the same letter or the same sound).
I wonder what he would think of Gabriel Garcia Marquez then?

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Old 15th Sep 2005, 14:29   #3
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Originally Posted by Oryx
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...First rule: No two characters in the same story can have their key name (i.e., the one most commonly referred to) start with the same letter or the same sound).
I wonder what he would think of Gabriel Garcia Marquez then?

Oh, you beat me to that point Oryx! :D
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Old 27th Sep 2005, 10:36   #4
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Default Re: People Who Offer Writing Tips on Websites

I have to confess that all that advice sounds incredibly lame, but I have to put in a word for OSC as an author. Ender's Game was a fine novel, though its sequels were mostly tripe, and much of his early sf was first class, too. And OSC writes a really excellent short story. The anthology Maps in a Mirror contains some of the best short sf I have ever read.

I am aware that he has been doing creative writing courses for a while, and I theorise that it is a symptom of the fact that the sales of his fiction deteriorated and have been on a downward path since about 1985. He tried to analyse his early successes in order to recapture the spark, and found he could teach others to write passable fiction.
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